By Dr David Laing Dawson
Men in Black, from 1997, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, is full of good moments. The particular moment that came to mind, for reasons that will become apparent, follows the recruitment of Will Smith to the very small and select team. Tommy Lee is showing Will Smith the ropes. He suggests they “check the hot sheets”. They stop by a News Stand to pick up a couple of tabloids, each with a lurid headline.
“These are the hot sheets?” asks Will.
“Best reporting on the planet,” says Tommy. “Go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.”
Smith spells out the gag: “I believe you are looking for tips in the supermarket tabloids.”
Their headlines include: “Pope a Father”, “Top Doctors baffled, Baby Pregnant”, “Man Eats Own House” and “Alien Stole My Husband’s Skin.”
The scene is played straight.
It is a very funny moment, I thought.
And I have always assumed that anyone reading these yellow sheets is engaging in a guilty pleasure. They are titillating themselves with implausible stories. Today those titles would be called ‘click bait’.
The publishers of these magazines, when they deal with celebrities, are marketing to our schadenfreude. Ah, how we enjoy reading that the lives of the rich and privileged may be as fraught with conflict and unhappiness, sin and regret, as our own.
But we know that when the story is not an outright lie, a gross exaggeration or invasion of privacy, it is still merely trivial. At least I thought we all understood that.
Hence the entire audience in the theater watching Men in Black got the joke.
But not, apparently, Donald Trump.
It is very distressing to learn that he and the publisher of The National Enquirer are good friends who influence one another. And that this publisher is thinking of buying Time Magazine.
There is a strange slippage afoot. I’m not sure whether we should be boning up on George Orwell or Lewis Carroll.
And I notice another thing entirely by accident. These Men in Black, American enforcement officers for true aliens, extraterrestrial aliens, of all shapes and sizes, some cute, some grotesque, some “legal” and some “illegal”, treat these aliens with much more decency and respect than Donald Trump and ICE treat human “aliens.”